Page last updated at 09:27 GMT, Sunday, 13 July 2008 10:27 UK

'Ludicrous' regional pay attacked

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Merthyr Labour MP Dai Havard called the UK government's policy "a highly dangerous experiment".

The decision to pay court employees in Wales less than their counterparts in some other parts of the UK has been criticised by politicians and a union.

Merthyr Labour MP Dai Havard called the UK government's policy "a highly dangerous experiment".

Court staff pay in Wales now compares unfavourably to areas such as south east England, Birmingham and Bristol.

The Ministry of Justice said the system tackled low pay and regulated existing differences.

The scheme has been justified on the grounds that it reflected the reality of the UK job market and was needed to attract and keep workers with the right skills in places such as London and Manchester.

But Mr Havard told BBC 1's The Politics Show in Wales he feared it may be introduced more widely in the public sector.

Dai Havard MP
I think potentially it's highly dangerous and it's a small experiment which has taken part in perhaps a not terribly visible part of the civil service
Dai Havard MP
Opponents also worry that such ideas become enshrined in Treasury pay guidance for the civil service.

"Why are they paid differently?" asked Mr Havard.

"There is no reason for them to be paid differently other than it is to the advantage of the Treasury, and it is wrong," he said.

'Ludicrous'

"I think potentially it's highly dangerous and it's a small experiment which has taken part in perhaps a not terribly visible part of the civil service.

"I think there is an agenda behind it by some, perhaps in the Treasury and elsewhere. If they have that agenda it should be abandoned."

Most of Wales is in the bottom of five pay categories, although there are also pay differences within Wales. Court workers in Swansea, Cardiff, Newport and Mold are one step up.

Darren Williams of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) said: "Supposedly these are areas where the going rate in the labour market is higher and therefore it's necessary but this clearly doesn't make sense when you have the comparison between, say, Cardiff and Barry, which is just down the road, and people working in these two areas will be paid different amounts."

He said it was "even more ludicrous" that workers in Mold were paid more than those in Wrexham, about 12 miles (19km) away.

Swansea University professor of economics David Blackaby said regional pay was a response to evidence of differences in wage markets across the UK.

He said there might be a need to pay public sector workers in more expensive areas higher wages to enable them to work there, but that widened the gap between prosperous and poorer areas.

Pay rise

"The number of people employed in the public sector in Wales in many rural areas and many of Wales' less prosperous areas will be higher than in other areas," Prof Blackaby said

"So if you implement this policy even within Wales it's likely to increase inequalities. Overall, Wales will suffer because more people are employed in the public sector on average than they are in England."

Concerns by Mr Havard and several other MPs are being echoed in the Welsh assembly and Plaid Cymru AM Leanne Wood said she would raise the issue with the relevant ministers.

"I'm hoping that we will be able to work out a way of the Welsh Assembly Government actually being able to make representations to Westminster because of this issue about it going in direct contradiction to anti-poverty plans, employment generation plans and so on," she said.

The Ministry of Justice said its regional pay system tackled low pay and the pay differences across the 50 organisations it now brought together.

Most workers on the lowest grades would see a pay rise by 20% over four years, it said, and annual reviews of the pay range allocations would take place to check they reflected the local employment market.

The Politics Show is on BBC1 at 1200 BST on Sunday.




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